Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Snapshot: Techie Kid

If you're going to rock out properly, it's important to have the right set-up.  And a plastic toy hammer.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How do people with low vision see?

My friend Becca, whose job is to teach living skills to newly blinded adults, and I teamed up to write an informational photo journey through a few ways VI people see. We did this in an attempt to increase awareness and respect for those who navigate the world differently, not to inspire praise or pity. In general people who have a vision impairment are able to use alternate techniques to do just about anything they want to do, but it's helpful for sighted people to be aware of how a VI person sees and how hard he or she might be working to complete certain tasks, while other things that sighted people assume are impossible turn out to be quite easy.

But enough chattering! Here is our post:

Monday, November 28, 2011

Books for Children

Seldom does another writer sum up so eloquently why I read children's books, and why someday I'd like to write them.  While I find profound wisdom in the beautifully simple, that's not actually the point.

Spooky Elves

Tonight, Little Mister practiced "Watchman's Song" on the piano, my favorite song from the Green book.  Hearing it, I was suddenly ten years old again, and playing the whimsical little song for the first time.  I have no idea where the song or the poem came from, but the few simple words ignited my imagination as a child.

I walk around the castle, every night at twelve.
The shadows from my lantern look like spooky elves.

What stories those eighteen words built in my mind!  I pictured a medieval castle, chilly and drafty, and a young man, intent on his job responsibility.  He would begin his rounds, fear gripping his throat as he haltingly stepped through the darkness.  That kind of delicious terror that raises the hair on my arms would come over me as I thought of this frightened lad, creeping along a tall stone wall in the silent darkness, the flickering, dancing shadows following him and harassing him, catching at the corners of his gaze to tempt him to look at them.

Even at age ten, I loved the sound of those words in the second line, and the gentle cadence of the musical notes. Even now, hearing the song makes me want to write stories, to craft these musical words into tales that bring to life the scared, creeping little watchman and his flock of spooky elves.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


"Texture" has become the new coolest word at our house. When we shop, Curly runs around feeling things like Christmas ornaments with glitter on them, asking me, "Do you think Abi would like this texture, Mommy?" My thought is that Abi is three, so would probably like to see how far she can throw the ornament across the store.

Still, thinking about texture has its advantages. Yesterday, I decided to tackle the Candyland game, and make it accessible for play by all my kids, including Abi. What crafty-minded person wouldn't love such a project? I rounded up Hubby and the Goombas (aside: wouldn't that make a great name for a band?) and we all went to JoAnn's Fabrics. The shopkeepers watched in amusement as our family ran around the store feeling fabrics, and saying things like "how about this for a nice, smooth blue?" or "Look, this one is scratchy!"

Candyland cards with fabric textures glued on the colored squares

We ended up with green satin, red fleece, yellow cotton, purple velvet, orange burlap and blue corduroy.  Using my rotary cutter and quilting square, it was an easy matter to cut out 1" pieces for the cards and 1/2" pieces for the game board.

Wooden game pieces shaped like little people with different textured "clothes" are velcroed to the Candyland board.

Game pieces took a little more problem-solving, since constantly touching the board results in pieces that get knocked every which way, not to mention standing a game piece on top of a tiny square of fleece would never work.  We finally solved it by sticking pieces of square, transparent Velcro next to the colored squares.  A bit of Velcro on the bottom of the wooden playing pieces, and each texture-wrapped "person" will stand securely next to the playing spot.

Puff paint marks the short cuts.

Next, I worked on the Rainbow Trail, the Gumdrop Pass, and the Lose-a-Turn Licorice spots.  Marking the special squares and shortcut paths with puff paint made them easy to see and feel.

Braille labels show the special squares.

All of the special character squares received a braille label, which matches the braille on the corresponding character card.  I figured that matching the braille words would be a good pre-reading exercise, as well as giving me an excuse to pull out my braille slate and stylus.

Lolly and Jolly cards with clear Braille labels

I had thought that this project would take much longer, but it only took a couple of hours to glue everything in place.  Not only did I have a wonderful time inventing, problem-solving and crafting, but now we have a fully accessible board game to add to the family game night rotation.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sharing Bean Moments

I made a little video of Bean playing with his Daddy to share with Miss A (Bean's birth mom). She loves to get little videos and stories about him, and since she currently lives halfway across the country, and can't visit as often as she'd like, the videos are even more special.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


We had a lovely Thanksgiving Feast with Mom and Dad. Sis and BIL ended up going elsewhere (sending prayers to BIL's family) so we had WAY too much food, but that was ok. :)

Menu for the curious on the other side of the pond: All the traditionals- turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, jellied cranberries, dinner rolls, apple-pecan green salad, pasta salad, fruit salad, candied yams, pumpkin pie, apple pie, various adult drinks, along with egg nog, juice, and (my favorite) good old ice water.

I do have a few funny kid stories from the trip down, and a few pieces of our lives to tack on for the memory books.


Mom had a towel hung on the kitchen drawer and Bean saw her wiping her hands on it. He really, really wanted to wipe his in the same way, and the only water easily available was in the dog's dish. So he rinsed his hands there (repeatedly) in order to use the towel like Mama. :)

Little Mister

While we were relaxing in the Living Room waiting for the turkey to be done, Little Mister decided that the toy hairbrush and comb qualified him for barber work, so he came to me with them and two toy cell phones.  I was to call him and request that he brush my hair for me, which I forthwith did.  He busily brushed and combed all of my hairspray out while I purred like a cat.  He was so pleased with my response, that he continued to do "favors" for me the rest of the evening.  He piled a bunch of books on my chair for me to read later; he followed me around with the popping push toy "vacuuming" for me, and wanted to sit by me at dinner.

He also insisted I take his picture when I took the picture of the family at the table.  So here he is!


After dinner, we went to the Locomotive Park.  I have to explain this unique place, so let me take a minute to do so.

This is a Google Image sampling of scenes from the Locomotive park. The community pulls together every year to fund and build a winter fairy-land of Christmas lights in a little downtown park.  They decorate the vintage steam engine, and over the years have added a huge outdoor fireplace, a dance floor, more walkways and figures and music.  We love to take the kids there. 

Anyway, Curly, as usual, took off at top speed as soon as she got there, without regard to the darkness, rain, or crowds of other people.  Mom headed off after her, and found that she'd tripped on something and took a tumble.  In spite of limping dramatically the rest of the evening, she managed to run around the entire park, enjoying the walk-in igloo, the dancing penguin figures and the real train bell that could be rung by pulling with all her might on a rope.

Hubby and I spent the drive back home in the rainy dark using the Flashcard app on my iPod to study our Amharic vocabulary.  The idea that Abi will come into our family not knowing any English, and that one of use will likely travel back to Ethiopia to get her made me determined to learn more words than "thank you."

I have an Amharic app that gives us pronunciations, and I wrote the flash cards as phonetically correct as I could, so we have been quizzing each other, and trying to make up weird mnemonic devices, such as using the actor David Wendham, who played a "brother" in LOTR to remember that "Wehn-Dihm" means "brother."  Hey, we go with whatever works in such cases of linguistic survival mode!

And as my friend Beth commented, "Next year, Thanksgiving with Abi." Yep, I'm thankful for my growing family.  :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Important Project

Last weekend, GG and G'pa Bob came from Oregon, bearing gifts. One was a Gingerbread house kit, the very thing the kids had been asking me to buy for them.

Beginning work.
Curly worked intently and with purpose.  This was a serious undertaking!
Someone caught me taking pictures of the proceedings
Bean's gingerbread man fell victim to his hungry artist.
Little Mister built a castle with some of the leftover gumdrops
Finished gingerbread house and tree.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

May we please trace letters?

Curly and Mister have improved dramatically this fall in handwriting neatness and correct letter formation. This morning, Mister requested that I print them out a practice worksheet, and who was I to argue?

They go about tracing letters in quite a characteristic manner.  Curly hurries through the task, trying to finish first.

Mister, on the other hand, takes his time and gets the job done as neatly and perfectly as possible.

Bean, who had to have one like the big kids, ignored the letters and scribbled everywhere. His improvement was simply staying on the paper rather than coloring the table purple.

Note: Yes, we do school in our pajamas.  Why not?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blind Unschooling

For a long time, I was a very reluctant homeschooling mom. Homeschooling sounded frustrating, difficult, and exhausting. Bloggers complained about feeling constantly behind and overwhelmed; the curriculum that I examined showed lists and lists of supplies to gather and messy activities to do.  I imagined the constant conflict of sitting my strong-willed daughter down at the kitchen table and forcing her to do endless worksheets.  That struck me as a battle I simply didn't want to fight. I have a pretty strong will myself, so I didn't doubt my ability to do it, but just because I could did it mean I should?

Then, I stumbled upon a blog called Nurtured by Love while searching for Suzuki violin stories. The joyful learning experiences Miranda described did not fit at all the picture I had of homeschooling. I researched more, read more... The more I read about Unschooling, the more it looked like exactly what our family needed.  Learning that was spontaneous, joyful, and exactly on my kids' learning level looked like such fun compared to forcing ourselves into an arbitrary schedule and curriculum, written by someone who did not even know my kids.  Digging up resources together like a treasure hunt looked easy compared to assembling pre-written lists of supplies.

Just as I assumed I would not be homeschooling the other three kids, I assumed that Abi would need the services of a public school TVI (teacher of the visually impaired). She has almost no usable vision, and somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that you simply are not allowed to homeschool a special-needs child. Once again, my constant hunting for resources on the internet paid off. I found and joined a listserve called Blindhomeschooler, which turned out to be the most fantastic group of parents, both parents homeschooling blind children, and blind parents who homeschool. The second group turned out to be nearly as helpful, since I have been homeschooling for several years now with low vision. I read every email that came through the list with growing excitement that I can indeed teach my blind daughter at home just as successfully as my sighted kids. That doesn't mean I will never use services from the state or school district. Quite the contrary, we'll do whatever is necessary to give her a full education. Rather, I realized how much I can truly offer her at home.

Perkins Electric Brailler

For starters, Last year, I finally obtained my Braille transcribing certificate. What this means for Abi, is that I can teach her to read in the same organic manner that I have taught the older two.  I can surround her with books that she can read, both purchased at sites like Seedlings, or fabricated myself.

Bananagrams tiles with braille

To teach the other kids to read and spell, we made good use of the Bananagrams letter tiles.  Now, it was an easy matter to add Braille to each tile using clear Dymo tape. The other kids had great fun with this, and it was a beginning to their own mastery of Braille in order to read with their sister or write her notes.

Purple rhinestones in a swirl pattern around a white cane

Stories by parents of blind children who are having trouble with motivation to use a long white cane prompted me to buy some lovely little rhinestones at Michael's to bling out the Kiddie Cane that I got for Abi. I have hopes that the "pretties" for little fingers to feel and for friends to notice will make the cane a fun accessory instead of an awkward piece of equipment.

handpainted foam puzzle pieces

Of course, our family does tactile projects already. Foam puzzles, wooden toys, clay, playdough, pipe cleaners, beads, dominoes, dice, dollhouses, LEGOs... the list of accessible projects around the house seems endless.

child-sized violins and a mandolin hanging on a wall

Although it seems clich√©, music often appeals to blind kinds, and I know already that Abi loves to sing.  She is in luck with our family, as we have available a wide range of instruments, including a piano that's open for little fingers to try any time.

iPod Touch sowing the app I Hear Ewe

A good tool that I've discovered from my own experience with low vision is the iPod Touch.  Not only does VoiceOver make it completely accessible right out of the box (yay, Apple!), but the list of apps that sing, read stories, or make sounds grows daily. 

Leapfrog Baby Tad

Even now, while she is still in the orphanage, I know she is learning to count, learning words in English, learning to sing and clap and dance.  While we were there, another parent donated a Leapfrog Baby Tad that Abi immediately latched onto, listening to the little songs over and over, and enjoying the flashing lights.  We gave them the rest of our travel stash of batteries, to keep it going a little longer.

Gathering resources seems like a good way to stay busy while I wait for her to come home.  I know from schooling the other kids that once she comes, I'll be a lot busier using them, and have less time to gather them.  Also, each fun educational toy that I collect, or message board or blog that I read makes it seem more real, that she really is coming very soon, and we'll dive into learning together (slowly, as she learns to love and trust us).  Like the other kids, I have no idea how much "regular" school her future holds, but I know that we have a lot to give her right here in her new home.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Curly Turns Seven

Having to wait for weeks after her brothers' birthdays has been tough, but at last her day came, and what a day! Presents, family, cake, and best of all: the first snowfall of the winter!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fall Leaves

It seems like only yesterday that I wrote the post last year about the kids playing in the leaves. Yet here it is a year later, and on a sunny walk downtown, we stopped along the way to play in the golden piles of crackling maple leaves. It was the first year Bean understood how much fun leaves can be. To watch him throwing armfuls of them into the air and roll down the hill surrounded by crisp, rustling fun absolutely made my day.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Pics of Meeting Abi

I think, since we passed court and everything is official, I can finally post pics of our sweet girlie! I am SO excited to share pics with you...been waiting a long time. Enjoy!

Here's the very first meeting. A completely indescribable moment. Hubby and I were both tearful.

Although the social worker told us to smile, it's a little hard to do when you're so emotional!

She served us pretend coffee in cups made of plastic blocks.

As you can imagine, I am counting down the days until she gets to come home. :)